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UN SDG 11: Sustainable Cities And Communities | Best Practices and Business Implications

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

By Sanjay Tugnait

The official mission of SDG 11 is to "Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable". The world’s cities occupy just 3% of the planet’s land but account for 60-80% of all energy consumption and 75% of the planet’s carbon emissions. Rapid urbanization is exerting pressure on freshwater supplies, sewage, the living environment and public health. Our rapidly growing urban world is experiencing congestion, a lack of basic services, a shortage of adequate housing, and declining infrastructure. Half of the global urban population breathes air that is 2.5 times more polluted than standards deemed acceptable by the World Health Organization.

The targeted outcomes for this goal include safe and affordable housing, affordable and sustainable transport systems, inclusive and sustainable urbanization, protection of the world's cultural and natural heritage, reduction of the adverse effects of natural disasters, reduction of the environmental impacts of cities and to provide access to safe and inclusive green and public spaces. These targets can be achieved by a three-pronged approach –

1) Strong national and regional development planning;

2) Implementing policies for inclusion, resource efficiency

3) Disaster risk reduction in supporting the least developed countries in sustainable and resilient building.

The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring cities and communities are resilient and environmentally sustainable. This means improving public transportation and providing support for natural infrastructure. While provincial, territorial and municipal governments own the majority of core public infrastructure, there is collaboration at all levels.

According to the Canadian government’s official website, the government’s commitment related to SDG 11 are:

  • Continue the transformation of public transit in Canada by accelerating major public transit projects, supporting the switch to zero-emission buses, developing rural transit solutions and continuing the roll-out of the National Active Transportation Strategy. Work on the design of the permanent public transit fund (Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities).

  • Make additional investments through the Natural Infrastructure Fund to support community-led public green space projects by municipalities, Indigenous communities and non-profit organizations (Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities).

  • Accelerate the design and delivery of the next phase of the Smart Cities Challenge (Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities).

  • Develop a national trails tourism strategy that also leverages the creation of new urban parks in order to enhance local opportunities for economic development and youth employment (Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance; supported by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Ministers responsible for Regional Development Agencies).

Businesses operating in these cities and contributing to the overall economic prosperity by providing income and revenue have a responsibility and opportunity to support infrastructural development. They can help the city and national governments develop clear, actionable plans to navigate these complex challenges.

The following are some best practices that businesses can adopt as part of their strategies in achieving SDG 11-

  • Implement company-wide policies for inclusion, resource efficiency, and disaster risk reduction.

  • Develop or participate in an existing sustainable community that involves all stakeholders possible to analyze issues, develop strategies, and act on functionality, resiliency, and sustainable development.

  • Make significant investments in local community sustainability infrastructure such as sustainable transportation, low-carbon and LEED-certified buildings,

  • Collaborate with local governments to find solutions to minimize the environmental impact related to your company’s operations.

  • Adopt changes to improve your buildings’ overall infrastructure sustainability and build new facilities according to sustainable building standards.

  • Encourage workers to use public transportation- Provide bike racks, incentives for using public transportation, and build facilities near existing public transportation lines.

One of the leading examples of businesses in Canada that have diligently worked on achieving SDG 11, is Schneider Electric. SE is a French multinational company that specializes in digital automation and energy management. As part of their action toward Sustainable Cities and Communities, Schneider Electric commits to facilitate access to lighting and communication to 50 million people with low-carbon solutions and to train 1 million underprivileged people in energy skills by 2025. They are also committed to carbon neutrality for its sites and its ecosystem by 2030. On its scopes 1 & 2, the Group targets a 53% absolute CO2 reduction by 2050 compared to 2015 and is committed to developing science-based targets by end-2018. They have developed an integrated offer of technologies and solutions supporting the transition to a more electric, digital, decarbonized, and decentralized energy. The Group is engaged to invest EUR10 billion in innovation and R&D for sustainable development between 2015 and 2025.

“Cities are the spaces where all SDGs can be integrated to provide holistic solutions to the challenges of poverty, exclusion, climate change and risks” – UN-Habitat Executive Director.

The UN has defined 10 targets that specify the goal:

  • 11.1. By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.

  • 11.2. By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.

  • 11.3. By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.

  • 11.4. Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.

  • 11.5. By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations.

  • 11.6. By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management.

  • 11.7. By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.

  • 11.A. Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, per-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning

  • 11.B. By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels

  • 11.C. Support least developed countries, including through financial and technical assistance, in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials

Challenges imposed by Covid-19

One of the biggest challenges that have thwarted the growth of achieving these targets has been the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Cities in many countries have become epicenters of Covid-19. Approximately 60% of COVID-19 cases have emerged in urban areas, shedding light on the function of cities in generating and accelerating the pandemic.

SDG 11 has proven to be of critical importance during the pandemic by ensuring a reduction in exposure to those living in crowded areas.

COVID-19 is more likely to spread in overcrowded urbanization, where growing populations and migration lead to rapid urban sprawl. As a result, unplanned urbanization that neglects low-income populations drives the expansion of informal settlements and accelerates the growth of the informal economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the deeply rooted inequalities in the cities, which is reflected in disproportionate pandemic-related impacts on migrants, the homeless, and the residents of urban slums and informal settlements. Thus, the success of SDG 11 is dependent on the focused action on part of government, society, and organizations working to aid the affected people. UN-Habitat, the UN agency for housing and urban development, is working with national and local governments to help them prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

What can businesses do?

Businesses can help cities navigate these challenges and turn a high-level vision into practical and implementable action plans. Businesses can play a vital role not only in providing specific infrastructure, technology, services, and financing solutions but also in contributing to the strategy that will support the overall optimization of urban systems to create inclusive, safe, sustainable and disaster-resilient cities.

Cities seeking to realize their sustainability objectives can benefit from engaging with business early in the planning and strategy development process, leveraging the capability of business to identify innovative and cost-effective solutions to complex, cross-cutting urban sustainability challenges.

Here, we would like to mention our member company - Saint-Gobain, which is one of the world’s largest building materials companies offering innovative, sustainable, and affordable solutions that are adapted to the lifestyle changes associated with increasing urbanization. The company has been diligently contributing to SDG 11.1 and 11.C - Investments in projects in favor of local communities.

In 2021, the Saint-Gobain Foundation supported 24 social construction projects for housing and/or professional integration for 6,204 beneficiaries and an allocated budget of €1,239,099. The Saint-Gobain Foundation has 3 levels of focus toward long-term SDG 11 (as per their website

  • For customers: Saint-Gobain's medium and long term outlooks rely on the development of a range of solutions integrated by country and end market. Our strategy of differentiation and innovation aims to have customers benefit from sustainable and high-performance solutions.

  • For local communities: The Foundation provides financial support for construction or refurbishment projects for living places of people experiencing hardship. It refurbishes healthy, attractive, warm, affordable and eco-responsible living places so that our beneficiaries enjoy decent housing.

  • For civil society: At the local level, Group subsidiaries are involved in partnerships, e.g. with the Green Building Councils (GBC).

We are here: At FCCCO, we are here to connect you to companies and businesses that can join you in your contribution to the UN’s various Social Development Goals. Reach out to us if you want to discuss how your business can benefit as well as participate in making our societies better!

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